Saturday, January 24, 2015

ASL to zoology: Alphabet books from A to Z.

I searched our bookshelves and found that we own close to 30 alphabet books! I brought them into the living room and arranged 26 of them on the floor like this, each letter of the alphabet corresponding to a different alphabet book:

Here is my alphabet of alphabet books (sort of a meta-alphabet-book, if you will). I like all of these, but I have starred a few that I think are particularly good. (See letters B, I, J, L, S, T, and Z.) All titles are hyper-lined to their Amazon pages.

A is for American Sign Language.  The Handmade Alphabet, Laura Rankin.

The illustrations for this book are cleverly done! Each page shows a hand forming a letter of the alphabet using sign language, accompanied by something that starts with that letter. The C hand is holding a cup, the E hand is being erased from the page, etc.

★ B is for Beautiful Black and White Illustrations. Pigs from A to Z, Arthur Geisert.

This is one of the best alphabet books I've seen. The whimsical pictures tell the story of seven pig siblings who build an elaborate tree house and then go home for baths and bedtime. Geisert's illustrations are richly detailed, and the reader can hunt for several letter shapes hidden in the artwork on each page.

"S is for shingling." Notice the S's hidden in the picture. There is also an R and a T.

"W is for washing clothes in a wind-powered washing machine."

C is for Cultural Traditions of Africa.  Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, Lauren Musgrove, pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon.

The illustrators of this Caldecott winner are Diane Dillon and the late Leo Dillon, a husband-and-wife team who won numerous awards over the course of their long career, including two Caldecott medals. They shared a career and an interracial marriage, both of which began in the 1950s and lasted for more than half a century. Their Wikipedia article is here.


D is for Doll. A is for Annabelle: A Doll's Alphabet, Tasha Tudor.

This book indulges the sensibilities of my my inner 5-year-old girl, who is in raptures over these illustrations.  Tasha Tudor lovingly depicts a dainty porcelain doll with an extravagant wardrobe of Victorian dresses and accessories.



E is for Elephants. ABC de Babar, Jean de Brunhoff.

Not to be confused with Babar's ABC by Laurent de Brunhoff (Jean's son), ABC de Babar was created for French speakers. Each wordless two-page spread depicts a scene packed with objects and activities beginning with the featured letter — if you write the words in French, that is. It's great for kids learning French, but some of the French words begin with the same letter as their English counterparts (e.g. montagne/mountain, orange/orange), so the book is fun for English speakers too.


F is for Flowers. Alison's Zinnia, Anita Lobel.

This book shows us 26 gorgeous flowers and 26 girls, each of whom receives a flower from the girl on the previous page and gives a flower, in turn, to the girl who comes next in the alphabet. Alison acquired an Amaryllis for Beryl. Beryl bought a Begonia for Crystal. Crystal cut a Chrysanthemum for Dawn. Etc.





G is for Garden. Pierrot's ABC Garden, Anita Lobel.

Here's another book by Anita Lobel, also featuring growing things, but with a different style of illustration. This one is a Little Golden Book. Pierrot, the traditional French character of pantomime, gathers things from his garden to take to his lovely Pierrette.


H is for History Lesson. A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women, Lynn Cheney and Robin Preiss Glasser.

This book is a delightful homage to the many women who have shaped our history. And yes, that's Lynn Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney. I scoured the book to see if I could find a politically conservative bias, but I didn't. (Let me know in the comments section if you have found otherwise.) 


★ I is for Ingenious. The Alphabet Room, Sara Pinto.

This one is excellent! Each letter marks a door that opens into a room. The first time we see the room, it is completely bare except for some apples. When we get to the B page, we see apples and bowls. On the C page, a cat joins the group. By the end of the book, we have a dog, an egg, a fish, and so on. The characters entertain us in new ways on each page: The dog tries on the jester's costume, the lamb eats the ivy, and everyone takes turns wearing the mustache. The painting on the wall, introduced on the P page, has its own character who changes positions and eventually drives out of the painting in his wagon. 


J is for Juicy. Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, Lois Ehlert.

My three-year-old and I can't get enough of the luscious watercolor illustrations in this book that celebrates fruits and vegetables. My husband is less enthusiastic (his assessment: "slightly below average"), but if you are a fan of artistic depictions of food (as I am), then this book really delivers. The text throughout the book is minimal, but the illustrated glossary at the end gives information and pronunciation guides for each fruit and vegetable.


K is for Kid Favorite. Gyo Fujikawa's A to Z Picture Book, Gyo Fujikawa.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite alphabet book. I pored over the pictures and used tracing paper to copy my favorites. The B pages were my favorites, though J (which featured an entire two-page spread full of jumping children), D, and V were certainly contenders. Gyo Fujikawa was a pioneer in depicting children of many races and nationalities in her picture books.

★ L is for Lovely. A Flower Fairy Alphabet, Cicely Mary Barker.

Cicely Mary Barker's work is so very lovely. Each letter of the alphabet gets its own flower fairy and poem to go with it. (She couldn't think of flowers that start with U or X, so those fairies are drawn as little characters in plain clothes. The X Fairy is a little imp, teasing his neighbor, the Yellow Deadnettle Fairy.) How can you not love these fairies with their clothes drawn to look like specific flowers? Just look at the Nasturtium Fairy's adorable little outfit! And the Fuchsia Fairy's dress!

All of Barker's books are lovely. I particularly like Flower Fairies of the Autumn and Flower Fairies of the Trees, because of all the lovely things she does with nuts and seeds and leaves. Note: I don't actually own the alphabet book as a stand-alone. It's included in The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, which I do own. The disadvantage of that book is that not all of the illustrations are full-size.


M is for Marvelous Market. On Market Street, Arnold Lobel (author), Anita Lobel (illustrator).

This is the third Anita Lobel book in our alphabet of alphabet books, and it's also a well-deserved Caldecott Honor book. The merchants on Market Street are made out of the stuff they're selling. My kids are fascinated with these pictures.



N is for Nature. Discovering Nature's Alphabet, Kristina Castella and Bryan Boyl.

Nature photographs depict the forms of each letter.


O is for Old-Fashioned Alphabet Rhyme. A Apple Pie, Gennady Spirin.

Spirin takes a traditional English alphabet rhyme and puts his own delicious spin on it.

P is for Paper Engineering. Parading with Piglets, Biruta Hansen.

So clever! The chimpanzee claps, the frog blinks, the Dalmatian's spots appear and disappear. This one appears to be out of print, though it's still available used at a reasonable price.



Q is for Quirky. Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters, Oliver Jeffers.

For each letter, Jeffers gives us a very short story, some of which are interconnected in surprising ways. My favorite story is the one for the letter W. The ingenious inventor (whom we first met at the letter I) is back, and we are introduced to the Whiraffe, a creature with the body of a giraffe and a whisk for a head. Here he is, whipping cream.


R is for Roadsigns. Backseat AB-See, Maria van Lieshout.

The illustrations are bold and visually pleasing, but roadsigns aren't exactly my thing. This book is perfect for my three-year-old son, however, who has started to pick out letters (well, mostly just the letter E) on roadsigns during car rides.


★ S is for Seuss. Dr. Seuss's ABC, Dr. Seuss.

This book is so good that I actually have the whole thing memorized. Really. And I'm not even a Dr. Seuss enthusiast, generally speaking. But stick with the regular paper-pages-book, not the board book. The board book has altered the text significantly, ditching some of the wonderful rhythmic poetry.  For example, the board book cuts out this wonderful rhyme: "Many mumbling mice are making midnight music in the moonlight. Mighty nice," which I understand is used as a vocal warm-up in some circles. 

For me, this is the quintessential Dr. Seuss, much more so than The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Itchy Ichabod, Silly Sammy Slick, Oscar's Only Ostrich, the Quick Queen of Quincy, and the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz will forever be a part of my consciousness. 

★ T is for Three-Dimensional. ABC3D, Marion Bataille. 

This pop-up book is beautifully engineered. The S has wheels inside its curves that spin as you move the page. The V becomes a W when it's reflected in the shiny paper on the next page. It's really impressive.

U is for Unusual and Understated. Anno's Alphabet, Mitsumasa Anno.

Note that the line drawings in the borders depict plants and animals that correspond to the appropriate letter. 

V is for Vintage. Brian Wildsmith's ABC, Brian Wildsmith.

This book is from my husband's childhood. His mother kept it in good condition and gave it to us when we had our first child. It seems to be out of print, except as a board book.  I think that the illustrations are striking.


W is for Wildflowers. Wildflower ABC: An Alphabet of Potato Prints, Diana Pomeroy.

Potato prints of wildflowers.

X is for EXtra. Richard Scarry's ABC Word Book, Richard Scarry.

Putting this under X is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn't bring myself to leave out Richard Scarry's contribution to the alphabet book canon, and I had already used S for Seuss.

The Busytown folks are up to their usual antics in this original Richard Scarry book. Two things make this alphabet book unusual: 1) Each featured letter is printed in red, wherever it is found on the page, whether it's at the beginning of the word or somewhere in the middle. Somehow, that's very appealing to me. 2) The consonant digraphs Ch, Sh, and Th each get their own two-page spread. Smart.

Y is for Young Children Who Are Yawning. A to Z, Sandra Boynton.

This book is great for young children, especially when a short bedtime story would be strategically wise. The illustrations are attractive and fun, but they're simple enough that one can zip through the book quickly.

★ Z is for Zoological. Animalia, Graeme Base. 

Each letter gets a gorgeous page or two full of animals and other things that begin with the appropriate letter. And on each letter's page (or two-page spread) a boy with a striped shirt and glasses (but not Waldo) is hiding.

Add caption
Can you find the boy in the striped shirt? (Look out the window.)

Here he is.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I really like your list. I wasn't familiar with Brian Wordsmith.
    I really like